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Digital Literacy : What is it?

What is digital literacy?


"If journalism is the first draft of history, then digital literacy is the first blush of the first page of history."

-Michael Eric Dyson


The American Library Association defines digital literacy as “the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information, requiring both cognitive and technical skills.” This “ability” is often a necessity in today’s highly technological world, especially within the context of a university or junior college education. Therefore, this resource guide seeks to help students (as well as college faculty and library staff) equip themselves with the tools necessary to navigate digital spaces.




Questions? Contact a librarian: Michael Kirby,

Video Explanation

What are some ways faculty can help students build digital literacy skills?

Beginning a class with a short statement on digital literacy helps to cement the importance of the topic early on; you could always draw from the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California’s 7 Reasons Why Digital Literacy is Important for Teachers, which could act as a good starting point for articulating your own commitment to ensuring the digital success of your students. 

Another great way to foster digital literacy is to incorporate “open assignments” into your pedagogical practice. This webpage from the University of British Columbia offers examples of different “open assignments” from across multiple disciplines while also acting as a strong testament to the role “open assignments” can play in strengthening students' digital skills.

What are some ways students can build digital literacy skills?

A primer on digital literacy can be found on the YouTube channel of the National Library of New Zealand. Once you familiarize yourself with the topic, it might be best to look for resources that explore the digital skills most often utilized in your intended career path/major. For example,  history majors might take a free online course from Coursera on geographical information systems (GIS) and its applications in historical analyses.  

It’s also important to foster your own sense of digital citizenship while educating yourself on the various acts that threaten the digital citizenship of others (i.e. plagiarism, identity theft, etc.). Resources on plagiarism and digital literacy, a topic of the utmost importance in academic contexts, can be found in this LibGuide put out from Central Washington University Libraries (it even includes a quiz, so test yourself on everything you just learned!). 


What are some ways library staff can help students build digital literacy skills?

One of the main ways you can help others build digital literacy skills is to educate yourself on the topic. This could be as simple as focusing on the intersections between digital literacy and your everyday life. For library staff with children (or those without children but who want to start with simple tools), Edutopia has a free list of resources geared towards helping younger audiences. When you’re ready to learn more about digital literacy as it applies to college-aged populations, trainings can be found on DigitalLearn, the Public Library Association's education platform. 

Once you’ve become more familiar with digital literacy, a good way to educate others on the topic is to offer some targeted programming. Some examples of digital literacy focused programming include instituting a Learning Circle on your campus, which might focus on the Microsoft Office tools used on a daily basis at your institution, or organizing workshops on digital citizenship for college students. Remember, the programs don’t have to be too complicated! Something as easy as offering a workshop on LinkedIn could help your students find a job or internship otherwise unavailable to them.


How is digital literacy related to academic freedom?

Often when we talk about academic freedom, we’re talking about ease of access; information might be readily available, but for those who lack the technological know-how, the information is still inaccessible. In my experience as a community college librarian, I’ve never suffered from a lack of databases. What I have suffered from, however, is a struggle to communicate how best to access the almost unimaginable breadth of resources my college makes available to its students. Academic freedom requires a commitment to ensuring access for everyone, regardless of their digital skill set. This resource guide is a starting point

Big List of Resources

  • This YouTube video from the National Library of New Zealand is a good introduction to digital literacy. 
  • Learning Circles are a great way to introduce digital skills to the college community. 
  • Edutopia provides free resources geared towards younger audiences. They are particularly useful if you have kids yourself and want to learn the basic fundamentals. 
  • 7 Reasons Why Digital Literacy is Important for Teachers foregrounds the intersections between digital literacy and teaching. 
  • DigitalLearn, created by the Public Library Association, offers trainings for those interested in digital literacy. Many of the trainings can be easily adapted to work for a college audience. 
  • Coursera offers free courses on all sorts of subjects and can help you attain some new digital skills. 
  • The New York Department of Education offers resources on teaching digital citizenship for students. 
  • If you want to analyze the efficacy of some of your digital literacy initiates, Project Outcome offers free tools. 
  • The book Creating Data Literate Students has PDF chapters freely available for download.
  • A primer on “open assignments” can be found on this webpage, hosted by the University of British Columbia. 
  • The American Library Association’s Government Relations website offers its own list of resources
  • This LibGuide from Central Washington University Libraries elucidates the connection between digital citizenship and plagiarism.